John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham

18 July 1782
Mrs Cunningham
at Mr Waddell’s [1]
My dear Sister

I was straitened for a time and confused in thought when I wrote my last letter, and I sent it with reluctance. The next day I received a second from you; I think I can perceive from both that your mind was anxious when you wrote, and that you are desirous of taking every step in your power that may prevent your doing wrong. No-one acquainted with you or your late dear husband, will think that either he or you would knowingly or intentionally do anything that is wrong. His integrity was exemplary, and some people thought him scrupulous, but I did not, I always admired him for it.

I am of the opinion that the manner in which he made his will, leaving you just £19 per annum, that is coming as near as possible to the limit which would have excluded you from the annuity, was not his original thought, but a measure he was advised to – had I known the design in time, I am persuaded I could have easily satisfied him, that it would have been better, to have left you all that you will receive by his will, openly and fairly, though the annuity had been thereby given up. However this may be, I am of [the] opinion that you cannot honourably part with the house in Rochester, [2] in any other way, than by a perpetual and absolute gift, so that neither you nor yours shall receive any benefit from it hereafter. Nay I believe this ought to have been done before my brother’s death, to make it such a deed of gift as will bear examining into.

I proposed, not your case, but one which I contrived something like it to my friend Mr Thomas an attorney who is my vestry clerk, [3] and who managed matters for your Sister when our Aunt died. [4] My case was – Suppose a person should leave me an annuity, upon condition that my income did not exceed a specified sum. If I, knowing my present income was more than that sum, should give away a part of it into such hands that the value should still come to me or my children – And if I made this gift, solely for the purpose of enabling me to accept the annuity – then I asked three questions:
1st Would this be right as to conscience? He said, By no means; it would be a deception.
2nd Would it be right and stand in law? He said, By no means – if the deception was discovered the whole might be set aside in a course of law.
3rd If I should then declare upon oath my income was but so much, when I had taken the above method to lessen it, would the oath be true or false? He answered, Certainly a false oath – you would not be liable to a prosecution for perjury, except the oath was taken in a Court of Record – but he made no doubt it would be perjury in the sight of God.
Thus indeed it appeared to me, when I first read it. I am sure you will deliberate and will be well advised before you proceed any further. I will not ask you what this annuity is worth; if it were a hundred or ten thousand a year, it would not be worth an evasion to one who fears God. But I suppose it is no great sum. I trust the Lord will enable you to do without it. And if my ability exceeds yours, I hope he would make me willing to assist you if it were needful. Poor changeable creatures as we are, it is not safe to bind ourselves with promises. I dare promise nothing, but I hope and believe I love you too well, to be backward in helping you to my power, if it were needful – especially when you were a sufferer for conscience sake. Trust the Lord my Sister – and keep not only from evil but from the appearance of it. Do not give any person power so much as to suspect, that you who profess the Gospel, are capable of the least artifice of deception. Your Sister remembers something about Mrs Hargood years ago, not very unlike the present case, and how she was blamed for taking methods which were thought not strictly right, to secure some money which she could not have otherwise claimed.[5]  But you, will put your trust in God, and leave all consequences to him, and he will surely do you good, and your children.

I send this by the post directly to Leith, in hope you may get it as soon as that which went on Tuesday to Anstruther. If you receive the other first, this follows in hopes of abating any uneasiness the former might give you. Mr Jarment [6] is set out, and I suppose will call on you soon, as he has a small parcel for your children. Give our love to them both, over again.

I am your affectionate brother

John Newton

18 July 1782
[in Elizabeth’s hand:]
Brother Newton concerning widow’s pension

[1] Alexander Waddell (d.1806) was a tide surveyor at Leith, about 50 miles SW from Anstruther.
[2] Aunt Soan bequeathed her house in Five Bell Lane to Elizabeth Cuningham. See Fn [4]
[3] Moy Thomas (c.1751-1809), attorney of Bearbinder Lane, Newton’s vestry clerk, was buried at St Mary Woolnoth on 1 June 1809, aged 58.
[4] Aunt Soan, Susanna, died in 1782. She left ‘messuages and gardens’ and £100 to ‘Mary the wife of the Reverend John Newton’, ‘the house and gardens and new buildings in the occupation of the said James Cuningham, all the furniture etc gold sliver coffee pot’ to Elizabeth Cuningham and £100 to Susie Cuningham. Susie was only one month old when Aunt Soan wrote her will in 1768, and Eliza not yet born. The Cuninghams were then living in part of her house at Five Bell Lane, Rochester. Susana's husband Jonathan Soan had died in January 1768, doubtless prompting her to write her own will asap.
[5] The Hargoods were a Chatham family. Thomas Hargood, shipwright of Chatham, died in 1727. Thomas Hargood, surgeon of Chatham, died in 1780. He had married Rebecca Rosewell in Chatham in 1742. Her sister Mary had married Hezikiah Hargood, Clerk of the Survey, Royal Dockyard, Chatham, in 1740. A ‘Rebecca otherwise Rebeckah , Spinster of Chatham’ died in 1784.
[6] Newton met Richard Jerment (1721-1787), minister of Burnstisland Anti-burghers, in 1781. He wrote to William Barlass (1752-1817) that Jerment had been at St Mary Woolnoth and had spoken to him after the service: ‘I have had the pleasure of his company three hours this morning.’ He described Jerment as ‘chatty’ which ‘ helps my natural unreadiness’. Seven months later he reported that ‘Mr Jarment's son called on me soon after his arrival.’ This was George Jarment (1759-1819), who had been called to co-pastor alongside David Wilson at Great St Thomas the Apostle.  Newton described the son as ‘a sensible and serious young man’. The son became a founding father of the London Missionary Society. It may have been the father who was returning to Scotland. Burntisland was about 30 miles SW of Anstruther.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 73-74

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019